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Lost for words : a novel by Edward St. Aubyn
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Lost for words : a novel (original 2014; edition 2014)

by Edward St. Aubyn

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3621851,727 (3.5)44
"Edward St. Aubyn is "great at dissecting an entire social world" (Michael Chabon, Los Angeles Times) Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award. The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine's publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn't on the short list, seeks revenge. Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda"--… (more)
Member:m_leigh
Title:Lost for words : a novel
Authors:Edward St. Aubyn
Info:New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:None

Work details

Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn (2014)

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» See also 44 mentions

English (17)  Italian (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
4.5 Hilarious send-up of the publishing world and in particular the world of literary prizes. The fictional one featured here is the Elysian Prize in Great Britain, which is sponsored by a questionable agricultural chemical company looking for respectability. Carefully satirized is the prize committee itself of 5 high-profile people, with personal agendas and political ties: Malcolm is a washed-up MP, Penny Feathers is the former lover of the prize's original inception and a thriller writer, Vanessa is a high-minded academic who guards the literary merit of the prize, Jo is a bleeding heart columnist and broadcaster concerned with relevance and Tobias is a hunky actor whose uncle is connected to the prize at higher levels. In addition, there are the lives of several of the writers who are being considered for the prize: Katherine Burns, whose submission was accidentally switched with an unvetted cook book by her lover/publisher -- exlover, now; Sonny, the Indian maharajah whose work was rejected, his Auntie who is the creator of the cook book and Sam Black, the most promising of them all who is willing to give it all up for a relationship with Katherine. Such tangled situations and relationships with a running commentary on literature and art and perception from Katherine's former lover, Didier make for laughable madcap scenarios. The author has gone all out in creating not just these complex relationships, but also samples of the books that are on the prize list and back-stories to the books, authors and committee members. Let's just say there is no such thing as objectivity and even literary prizes carry an agenda and are swayed by circumstances and favoritism. Who will win? That's the great reveal with much ridiculousness in between. As an audio book, the story is read by one narrator who gets the tone just right and is extremely talented at giving voice and accent to the range of characters and even the different books represented. It moves fast -- rather short, so it takes a bit of attention to not miss clever details, but thoroughly enjoyable. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
As I read St. Aubyn’s noveI, I couldn’t stop thinking: “Man Booker”. I think as readers we've definitely lost out. Prizes are as much if not more about marketing as excellence and when there is so much out there, for the Booker to narrow the range of books highlighted (short list?), which is what happened in St. Aubyn’s novel, is a shame. The book judges perhaps didn't see this happening and they aren't responsible for the overall picture after all. UK doesn't have a national book award like the States and there is no Commonwealth Award anymore. Getting and keeping funding for prizes is tough and some are very controversial. There are better ways of readers finding out about books these days. If you have a prize it does need to have a clear category and continuity which the Booker doesn't anymore. It's lost its way and readers will go elsewhere. To this foreign reader, the novel stands as an international literary phenomenon, on the grounds of style and humor alone. It's not a topical satire. It's a farce, and it should be read as such, and it succeeds as such. "The sly, chatty third-person narration and the constant onslaught of wordplay, bathos, farcical mishap and circular logic" are the reasons “Lost for Words” exists for in the first place. It is funny, sidesplittingly so, and all instances of flowery verbiage and "bad writing" are intentional. It could have been a bitter act of revenge, but it's a delightful silly little comedy. As long as you're aware it's lighthearted, slightly whimsical entertainment, and not anything important, it is not to be missed. Humour or comedy literature is about as popular as a cock flavoured lolly with the critics/establishment. Ask about comedy and you get the same old chestnuts, “A Confederacy of Dunces”, etc. I just wish I were a comedy author, all dark and full of gross humour. I, for one, never cared about literary prizes. Well, imagine having spent at least two years sitting in a room by yourself while writing a book at the same time as one of the characters in St. Aubyn’s tries to do. For a chunk of years she should have decided not to read their musings anymore but to walk out of her front door and do stuff herself instead. BTW, just to reassure anyone who gave up on Proust I am pressing on; currently at about 37% read and nothing has happened yet as it should with all top-notch Literature. Artistic prizes don't mean shit, and are often political anyway. The true test of any piece of art, book, film, portrait, is its longevity. That is all. People who don't want their work judged entirely on this criteria should not even be artists. Or is it about length? This raises a genuinely interesting point. The philistines, compulsive naysayers, and unreflecting consumers of literary bilge are not notable for their avoidance of lengthy tomes (400 - 800 pages on average), as proof of which all one need do is visit WH Smith. When someone scoffs at the length of the George Eliot I'm reading - or, more generally, at the voluminousness of any number of 19th/20th Century 'great novelists' - I cast an eye over their dog-eared, spine-cracked huddles of Robert Ludlum, Len Deighton, and publisher-egged-on exponentialismic J.K. Rowling and reflect on so much fuzzily misapplied rationale. Of the winners listed in 2018, the one who stood out as a deserving case was Julian Barnes - 'The sense of an ending' was excellent, and many (not all) of his others are well above average. DBC Pierre wrote one good book but I'm not aware that he's been able to repeat the feat. Marlon James's effort is also interesting but a hard read, as the narrative is confusing at times. I have been unable to 'get into' Margaret Atwood, and "Benjamin Black" (AKA John Banville ) is dreadful...It's quite hard to know what the prize-givers are looking for, given the disparate quality of the prize winners... if there's no story, I'm really not interested. Writing for people who teach English Lit courses should not be a criterion, IMO. Pretentious, shallow, shallow and pretentious. Also superficial and slight-fantastic. That's when not torpid or turgid or turbid. Nay, more, much more from the near millennial critics' armoury, so very much more, they are also sometimes "affected", sometimes "ostentatious, chi-chi" - they can be at times "showy, flashy, tinselly", conspicuous in their "evasiveness" - "flaunty-mute", or "inert and tasteless", then there's the "kitschy or overambitious", the "pompous artifice of the critic's mirror" - it's "hellish professor's trickster", even "flatulent when high pressed inflated", "overblown" or "ripe" - that fustian "hyperventilation in their mannered, high-flown, high-sounding floristy", yes, "flowery, grandiose, big wordy-grand" - "overelaborate" and "unconscious mock-heroic", "grandiloquent", nay, "magniloquent bombastadry" - you know the one, "turgid, orotund" or even "rotund in rhetoric" - "mute-oratorial", "narco-sophomoric", "highfalutin la-di-da fancy-pants narratry" - the "quiescence of pseud-pseud-pseudo flares" or "spare yet tumbling cross-wire eyed puissance". We've read it all before in reviews. If we see not the real thing we see the pretentious sir, pretentious.
There, squall-spat over.

The All-Seeing-I should not in matters of taste and mere contingency fake final say when time could make a mockery of said judgement. On the other hand, I was always a book snob. Meaning: You and I are pretentious. Booker winners and many a nominee and even non shortlist are very much the real deal (*).

(*)I'm sorry; someone has apparently been fumigating my villa against mosquitoes, and the smell was a little pungent. I think I was high as a kite typing that mess above. Apologies all round. ( )
  antao | Jul 27, 2019 |
Terrific satire of the award process. It's about the Booker, especially 2011, obviously, but it's also about awards more generally. I could read an entire book about Didier.

St. Aubyn's writing is so elegant and incisive. I wouldn't want to be at the receiving end of his acute observations, but he'd probably get me right. ( )
  Sunita_p | May 18, 2019 |
Instead of writing a review, I am including an excerpt of this book. This excerpt captures some of the brilliance behind St. Aubyn's writing:

"Nietzsche announced the death of God; Foucault announced the death of Man; the death of Nature announces itself, with no need for an intermediary. As these three elements of our classical discourse dissolve in the acid rain of late Capitalism, we are offered the consolation of its own pale triumvirate: the producer, the consumer and the commodity. Thanks to advertising, the producer sells the commodity to the consumer; thanks to the Internet, the consumer is the commodity sold to the producer. This is the Utopia of border less democracy: a shift of the signifiers in the desert of the Real. This is the playground of unlimited freedom: the opportunity to define ourselves through the gratification of an ever more perverse and hybridized fetishism. This is the celebrated openness of technology that is at the service of perpetual supervision. It is the 'open' field that is the supreme disguise: in the absence of the hidden object, we cannot see what we see, because we have abandoned the need to search. As for searching, let our engines do it for us! The thought that cannot think itself is that we will die of thirst before we reach the shining city of individual gratification, which was never made of anything other than the shimmering heat waves of a collectively conditioned desire." ( )
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  AntonioPaola | Jan 27, 2018 |
Fluff....not up to his usual witty standard.. ( )
  APopova | Jan 2, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aubyn, Edward Stprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Briasco, LucaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garcia, YannickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hansen, NikolausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoekmeijer, NicoletteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odin, JacquelineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rodríguez Juiz, CruzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Toen Sir David Hampshire, dat fossiel uit de Koude Oorlog, hem had benaderd met de vraag of hij juryvoorzitter wilde worden van de Elysian-prijs, had Malcolm Craig vierentwintig uur bedenktijd gevraagd.
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"Edward St. Aubyn is "great at dissecting an entire social world" (Michael Chabon, Los Angeles Times) Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award. The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine's publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn't on the short list, seeks revenge. Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda"--

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